This Is Not a Game is not just a cool title, but a cool near-future novel from acclaimed science fiction writer Walter Jon Williams, who has been nominated for every major SF award, including the Hugo and the Nebula Award. He was kind enough to dish the latest to Sci Fi Bookshelf:
Sci Fi Bookshelf: What inspired you to set This Is Not a Game in the near future, rather than doing something farther out, say, a century from now?
Walter Jon Williams: A few years back, Sean Stewart and Maureen McHugh hired me to help them write an alternate reality game called Last Call Poker. I was so taken by this state-of-the-moment electronic art form that I determined to take this bleeding-edge phenomenon and turn it into ink on dead paper.
Cuz that’s what I do, man.
There are a number of reasons why TINAG isn’t set farther into the future. First, there is my suspicion that in a few decades, alternate reality gaming will be indistinguishable from advertising, and about as interesting. But more importantly, the novel is about the intersection of common reality and the enhanced alternative reality of online gaming, and about how one can crawl unnoticed into the other. In order for that to be an interesting reading experience, the baseline reality of the novel has to be recognizable for the reader. If it’s a made-up future interacting with a made-up gaming environment, it’s entirely detached from our world, and the whole point of the experience is compromised.
SFB: Among other things, you’re noted for your groundbreaking contributions to the cyberpunk movement in years past. Do you see near-future thrillers like this one as being the current definition of cyberpunk?
WJW: I see the tropes of cyberpunk all over the map these days. While This Is Not a Game does in fact feature a number of these elements, I’m inclined to think that true cyberpunk requires a more radical brand of extrapolation.
SFB: Is there any truth to the rumor of a sequel to This Is Not a Game?
WJW: Yes. The sequel is titled Deep State, and I finished it a few days ago. In the first book, Dagmar was caught by surprise as reality and the gaming world began to cross one another. In the second book, she attempts to achieve this deliberately.
There will also be a third book, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
SFB: Stepping back a bit to Metropolitan and City on Fire, do you think there’s an untapped audience out there for science fiction powered by fantastic elements?
WJW: I hear from readers all the time, but publishers aren’t exactly beating down my door about it. In these contracting economic times — which for publishers has been the last 15 years — they are buying much more conservatively. I think it’s a strategic error, but then it’s not my money on the line.
SFB: Do you have any advice for aspiring science fiction writers today?
WJW: Network. It’ll save you a lot of time and wasted effort. When I began, I was so isolated that I practically had to invent the novel on my own.
I also advise workshops, at least if you’re the kind of writer who can take face-to-face criticism without exploding. I run a workshop myself, aimed primarily at the novel. For further information, check out www.taostoolbox.com.
This Is Not a Game
Walter Jon Williams